To be economically viable, any biomass-to-fuels strategy must also involve the effective conversion of biomass-derived oxygenated compounds to high-value chemicals. Although many of the pathways for these conversions are known, it is unclear which high-value chemicals should be produced to make the overall process economically attractive or which chemistries should be integrated and how. To address these questions, we develop a strategy for the evaluation of existing and emerging technologies, as well as the synthesis of novel chemical processes that include these technologies.
In particular, we develop a network design approach where existing fossil-fuel-based and emerging biobased-based technologies are considered. In addition, we consider known as well as potentially new intermediates that can be used to satisfy demand. Using the above network-based representation (see figure below), we formulate optimization models that allow us to evaluate in a systematic manner a large number of alternatives, and thereby address a series of challenging questions: Which chemicals can be produced more effectively from biomass? Which emerging technologies could have the greatest impact? Can biomass-based technologies be used today to replace fossil-fuels technologies? What biomass-to-chemicals conversion levels are necessary to support biomass-to-fuel production at different oil prices?